Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

Subscriber: null; date: 24 October 2019

Bickersteth, (Kenneth) Julian Faithfulllocked

  • John Bickersteth

Bickersteth, (Kenneth) Julian Faithfull (1885–1962), headmaster and Church of England clergyman, was born on 5 July 1885 at Ripon, Yorkshire, the third of the six sons of Canon Samuel Bickersteth (1857–1937), canon of Canterbury and chaplain to the king, and his wife, Ella Chlora Faithfull (1858–1954), the daughter of Professor Sir Monier Monier-Williams. Ella, with Alice Liddell, was one of the five or six little girls in Oxford on whom Lewis Carroll modelled his Alice in Wonderland. Julian Bickersteth was educated at Rugby School, and Christ Church, Oxford, where he took a second class in history in 1906; after a year tutoring in India he went to Wells Theological College. Ordained to a title in St Andrew's, Rugby (from where he played rugby football for the midland counties), he remained as a curate (for the only parochial experience of his ministry) until 1911, when he was appointed senior history master and chaplain at Melbourne Church of England grammar school, in Australia. Released by the school in 1915 to return to England, he volunteered for chaplaincy duties with the British expeditionary force in France. Chaplain to The Rangers, whom he came to love deeply, he then became senior chaplain of 56th London Division and finally deputy assistant chaplain-general, 15th corps. Frequently in heavy fighting, caring for the wounded, ministering to men condemned to execution, and taking burials (seventy on the second day of the battle of the Somme), he also, in spells behind the line, took special trouble over the men's spiritual welfare, organizing makeshift chapels, preparing officers and men for confirmation, and training servers, only to find himself burying most of them soon afterwards. He was twice mentioned in dispatches, and won the Military Cross for bravery in the field.

Demobilized in 1919, and accepting (without interview) an invitation to be headmaster of St Peter's Collegiate School in Adelaide, South Australia, Bickersteth gradually became important in Australian education. At St Peter's he increased numbers from 550 to 720 and built a war memorial hall, science laboratories, and several boarding-houses; he began the Headmasters' Conference for Australian Independent Schools, and was partly responsible for the founding in 1925 of St Mark's, the first residential college of Adelaide University. From 1928 to 1933 he was also senior chaplain to the Australian military forces.

In 1933, again without interview, Bickersteth was appointed (out of fifty-six applicants) headmaster of Felsted School in Essex; plunging enthusiastically into his first experience of English schoolmastering, he introduced a tutorial system, brought (with the help of his brother Burgon [see below]) a Canadian schools cricket eleven to Felsted, and joined in what was then the pioneering practice of employing teaching staff from the British empire. In 1935 he founded an annual conference of public-school chaplains, initiated taking boys for a weekend retreat in preparation for their confirmation, raised the school's academic and athletic reputation, and built a science block, an art school, and a sanatorium. The outbreak of war meant the evacuation of the whole school; they went to several big houses in the Wye valley. But he was not to oversee their return.

In 1942 Bickersteth accepted the pressing invitation of his old schoolfriend William Temple, on the latter becoming archbishop of Canterbury, to join his new staff, as archdeacon of Maidstone and (as his father had been before him) residentiary canon of the cathedral. He soon made his mark in the life of the diocese, cathedral, and city. Keeping up his concern for Christian education, he was much in demand preaching round the public schools; a keen governor of the Woodard Foundation, he took retreats and quiet days in many parts of the country. Made a chaplain to the queen in the first appointments after the coronation in 1953, he undertook several tours of Australia and America to raise awareness of and money for the needs of the mother church of the worldwide Anglican communion. He encouraged the foundation in Canterbury of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies, which before long was internationally recognized, and soon awarding annually a Bickersteth medal for notable work on family history.

After retiring in 1955, Bickersteth took on the chairmanship of the new Archbishops' School in Canterbury, and saw through its first five years as a successful comprehensive school. In 1960, with much help from Burgon, he rescued for the Church of England the thirteenth-century Greyfriars' Chapel when it came on the open market, thus opening the way for a renewed Franciscan presence in the heart of Canterbury. He was also closely involved with the siting and funding of the University of Kent. He kept up his teaching and preaching and his travel until he had a heart attack at his desk on 16 October 1962, dying on the same day in the Kent and Canterbury Hospital. He was buried in his parents' grave just outside the east end of St Martin's Church, Canterbury.

Julian Bickersteth's younger brother, (John) Burgon Bickersteth (1888–1979), academic administrator, the fourth son of Samuel and Ella Bickersteth, was born on 14 January 1888, in London. Educated at Charterhouse School and Christ Church, Oxford (where like Julian he took a second in history), he captained the Oxford University association football eleven to victory in the 1911 varsity match, having won his blue in both 1909 and 1910; he had captained Charterhouse in 1908.

On going down from Oxford, Bickersteth volunteered for two years' service as a lay missionary with the Anglican church in western Canada, beginning at once to record his adventurous pioneering experiences in the Rocky Mountains by means of vividly written letters home, which on his return to England he was persuaded to put into book form; the result was the publishing of The Land of Open Doors (1914; repr. 1976). He spent 1913–14 in the University of Paris at the Sorbonne.

On the outbreak of war Bickersteth joined the Royal Dragoons, and served with them in France until demobilization; during long periods of cavalry inactivity he wrote and completed A History of the 6th Cavalry Brigade (1919); but he was also frequently in heavy fighting, and twice won the Military Cross. Demobilized in 1919, he then had two years teaching in the University of Alberta, but he decided that the post was not right for him and resigned; he was actually on his way home when, in 1921, he was offered and accepted the wardenship of Hart House in the University of Toronto. Both the building and the concept were new. The place was to be the cultural, artistic, and leisure centre for the undergraduates. He set to, and began at once to start fashioning this unique hub to a university community.

Granted leave of absence from the university in the spring of 1940, Bickersteth hastened home to the scene of action, and joined the Canterbury Home Guard at the height of the invasion scare. That autumn his old friend General McNaughton, commanding the Canadian forces in Britain, asked him to create the post of director of education for them. In 1943 the British army invited him to switch his allegiance, and do a similar, larger task for British troops—both those who were part of home defence, and the fighting divisions preparing to invade the continent. He devised the Army Bureau of Current Affairs pamphlets, followed by the British Way and Purpose ones, resigning in 1944 to return to Canada in preparation for the thousands of servicemen who would be making for the universities. He stayed until 1947, judging himself by then to be beyond the right age to respond properly to undergraduates' aspirations; so he wound up his affairs, and retired to Canterbury.

For the next thirty years Bickersteth devoted himself to the life and work of the cathedral, initially in the welcome company of both his aged mother and his brother Julian. Painstaking palaeography research in the cathedral library, membership of the council of its Friends, imaginative guiding round the cathedral itself, particularly if as so often the visitors were Canadians, who had made looking up ‘the Warden’ an important part of their English tour, filled his days. He also gave much time to prison visiting, prisons and borstals having been a lifelong interest; in fact by his eighties the Home Office was calling him the doyen of the prison visitors of England, 'greatly loved from Dartmoor to the Scrubs' (private information). In a lifetime of deep concern for the young, his abiding passion remained Hart House, the 26-year assignment for love of which he refused many significant offers in Canada and the UK. His reason was always the same: he was 'not prepared to give up the excitement and opportunities of Hart House' (Montagnes, Strange Elation, 17). In old age he was made a doctor of laws of Toronto University, and a member of the order of Canada. He died in a nursing home outside Canterbury on 1 February 1979, and was buried beside his parents and Julian in St Martin's churchyard.

Julian had died seventeen years before Burgon, but their countless friends tended always to talk of them in one breath. Without question the very close friendship between these lifelong bachelor brothers developed in their shared experiences on the western front. The widely acclaimed The Bickersteth Diaries 1914–1918, an edited version of the eleven typescript volumes their mother put together from start to finish of the war, consists largely of excerpts from what were sometimes almost daily letters home. The family ties were immensely strong anyway; the heroism and carnage and agony simply served to deepen them. In every kind of circumstance, sometimes riding on horseback or by bicycle 40 miles to do so, they contrived to meet; two days before Morris, the fifth brother, was killed in action the three of them had a 'merry lunch' together and wrote a joint letter home. Both Julian's and Burgon's letters penetratingly reveal how the prevailing jingoism of the early part of the war gave way to disgust at the pointlessness of it all; but their faith held. They write about politics, education, religion, and the beauties of nature, in among graphic accounts of 'battle and murder and sudden death'.

The war over, and after they had gone up to the king side by side, each to receive his Military Cross, they went off again to the opposite ends of the earth, but invariably organized leave to tour the continent together (Burgon particularly was very knowledgeable on Romanesque churches, and monasticism), and they would always include a pilgrimage to Morris's grave in the Serre cemetery near where he had fallen. Julian, the older by two and a half years, was tall and debonair, a disciplined Anglo-Catholic priest to his fingertips; Burgon, the younger, was wiry and stocky, a wonderful listener, and a devout Anglican layman. Both brimful of ideas and both having the drive to carry them out with unflagging energy and boundless enthusiasm, both deeply committed to the cause of Christian education, they were also invariably great fun to be with. Thousands of English-speaking people came under their influence for good in the five or six middle decades of the twentieth century.


  • J. Bickersteth, ed., The Bickersteth diaries, 1914–1918 (1995)
  • N. Smart, ed., The Bickersteth family war diary, 2 vols. (1999–2000)
  • I. Montagnes, An uncommon fellowship (1969)
  • I. Montagnes, A strange elation: Hart House, the first eighty years (2000)
  • M. R. Craze, A history of Felsted School, 1564–1947 (1955)
  • personal knowledge (2004)
  • private information (2004)
  • CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1979) [(John) Burgon Bickersteth]


  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp., diaries, and papers
  • LPL, papers
  • University of New Brunswick, letters [copies]
  • BL, letters to Albert Mansbridge, Add. MS 65258
  • CAC Cam., reports to Lord Hankey on Canadian affairs
  • NL Wales, corresp. with Thomas Jones


  • Karsh, photograph (John Burgon Bickersteth), Hart House
  • oils, St Peter's, Adelaide, Australia
  • oils, Felsted School, Essex
  • photograph, Hart House
  • photograph (John Burgon Bickersteth), priv. coll.
  • portrait, oils (John Burgon Bickersteth), Diocesan Office, Canterbury

Wealth at Death

£10,911 14s. 0d.: probate, 28 Nov 1962, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

£57,999—(John) Burgon Bickersteth: probate, 1979, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Bodleian Library, Oxford
Lambeth Palace London
Churchill College, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge
private collection
Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]
D. Pike & others, eds., , 16 vols. (1966–2002)
British Library, London
National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth